Murder At Muirfield – Episode 30

GRACIE was awake when I tried to get quietly into bed. I was shivering uncontrollably, from shock or the cold or both. My teeth chattered so loudly that my jaw ached.
“Hannah? Is that you?” she mumbled sleepily.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” I whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Where have you been?” Gracie demanded. She sat up in bed, her hair like a haystack.
“Keep your voice down,” I said. “We don’t want Sarah coming to complain.”
I took off my boots and got into bed. I realised that Emily still had my coat. I’d retrieve it in the morning when the Dawtons had departed for Glasgow.
“Tell me what’s been happening.”
“Give me a moment to get warm.” I rubbed my hands together, then winced at the pain in my palms. They were scraped from my fall. I took the blankets and wrapped them snugly round me. Gradually I felt a little better. The warmth seeped into me and I began to relax.
“Hannah?” Gracie said.
I told her what had happened. She was silent for a while, digesting it all.
“What was Pete doing in the woods?”
I stared at her admiringly. She was as sharp as a tack. I hadn’t thought to ask that. I put the blame on the shock my fall had given me. I’d have got there eventually.
“I don’t know. All I do know is that he was there beside me as I tried to get up.” “Isn’t that suspicious?” Gracie frowned. “Maybe he’s the one that shoved you. Then he pretended he’d come to help.”
I thought about the old man. He’d always been very kind to me. I thought of the thoughtful way he cleaned the bothy and laid out the lunches. Of the little posies of flowers that brightened up their table. I couldn’t imagine him hurting me. “How long’s he worked here?” I asked Gracie.
“For ever. He’s been here all the years I’ve worked here and I came at the age of ten.”
“Has he been involved in anything unsavoury before now? Has he a reputation for anger or violence?”
Gracie laughed, then put her fist to her mouth to stop the noise.
“No, I’ve not heard any gossip to suggest that.”
I relaxed, until she spoke again.
“Still, if he’s got something to hide, men will do extreme things to keep their secrets hidden.”
Uneasily, I shifted in my bed.
“He’d have some cheek pushing me over then pretending he’s found me and asking if I’m all right.”
“Who knows what he’s capable of,” Gracie said, warming to her theme. “Look at May Litton. We all knew she’s a one for the lads, but I’d never have guessed she’d actually run away with one of them. It’s ruined her reputation, such as it was. That was a step too far even for May. People do strange things under pressure.”
“Yes, but what if it wasn’t old Pete. What if there was someone else there?” I swallowed down my fear. It was a horrible thought, that I’d been stalked like a big cat with its prey. “I felt like I was being watched. Then when Emily and I were walking along the path, I heard what sounded like footsteps, crunching on twigs and breaking the leaf litter.”
“Why did they push you?”
“To warn me off about walking in the woods at night?”
“Yes, I think that’s it. Whatever they want to hide, it’s got to be in the woods.” Do you think that Ellen found it?” Gracie’s voice held a trembling excitement.
“You’re right. That’s got to be it.” Some detective I was, Gracie was so much better at it than me.
“Did Miss Emily see what happened?”
“She didn’t say. She was right there when I got up. But she didn’t say one word when we walked back to the house, not even after we’d left Pete at the bothy.”
“She was sleep-walking so she might not remember much.”
“It was quite strange seeing her like that,” I said, “but I’m sure she was awake when I fell. The question is, did my fall wake her up or was she already awake when the mysterious person pushed me?”
“I don’t believe we are any closer to learning the truth about Ellen,” Gracie said.
“Don’t you? Because I do. Someone is rattled. And rattled people make mistakes,” I said firmly.
“I hope you’re not suggesting what I think you’re suggesting,” Gracie said, sounding horrified.
I nodded.
“Yes, I am. Soon I’m going to take another walk in the woods at night.” I felt slightly sick as I said this. I didn’t feel brave at all.
“I won’t let you.”
Dear Gracie. What a good friend she was. Defending me against my own judgement.
“I won’t pretend I like the notion, either,” I said, “but what else is there to do?”
“I’ll tell you what. Leave the detective games for Mr Arthur Sankey, that’s what. I’ve a good mind to tell Mrs Smith what you’re up to.”
“You wouldn’t!”
“Try me. You’re going to get yourself killed if you’re not careful. I won’t let you.” She was tearful now.
I got out of my bed and ran to hers. I hugged her hard.
“Please don’t cry, Gracie.”
“I’ll stop if you promise not to go into the woods alone at night.”
Gracie was like a tiny, fierce tiger snarling at me. A part of me wanted to laugh at her. Another part was annoyed that she’d thwarted my grand plan.
“I promise.”
She pushed me away. I got back into my bed. We stared at one another. Gracie was the first to speak.
“I want to know who killed Ellen.
Especially if he or she is still at Muirfield. But I don’t want to lose you. I’m sorry, Hannah, but you do see it’s for the best?”
I sighed and lay back, the blankets pulled now to my chin where they tickled me.
“Go to sleep. Things might look different in the morning.”

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!